In Brief

Does the Irish backstop breach the Good Friday Agreement?

Former Northern Ireland first minister taking UK government to court over Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal deal

Former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble is to take Theresa May’s government to court, arguing the Irish border backstop contained in her Brexit withdrawal deal breaches the Good Friday Agreement.

The former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was instrumental in brokering the historic peace accord in 1998 that ended three decades of sectarian violence, in the process winning a Nobel Peace prize.

Like his Democratic Unionist Party rivals, Trimble is “deeply opposed to the backstop because, if enforced, it would mean Northern Ireland operating under certain EU rules, separate to the rest of the UK, creating what they fear would be an economic border in the Irish Sea” reports Politico.

May's deal “turns the Belfast Agreement on its head and does serious damage to it”, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He plans to launch judicial proceedings “this week or next” in an attempt to force May to drop the backstop and replace it with “alternative arrangements”, “along the lines suggested in the documents ‘A Better Deal and A Better Future’ produced by eurosceptic group Global Britain”, reports the Daily Mirror.

The Daily Telegraph says the case “is based on six propositions including the political consensus that there should be 'no hard border' on the island of Ireland, and that Northern Ireland will be treated differently from Great Britain under the terms of the deal”.

The legal argument was last week summarised in an article for the Policy Exchange research group by Lord Bew, the former chairman of the Standards watchdog.

He argued that the changes to how agriculture and animal health is managed would need to be endorsed by the Northern Ireland assembly – which has not sat for two years.

Theresa May’s DUP allies, who prop up her government, have demanded the EU replace the “toxic” backstop so that the UK can quit the bloc in an orderly fashion.

Reuters reports that “[DUP leader Arlene] Foster laced her rhetoric with a call for a solution that would work for all sides and refused to say whether the deal would have to be renegotiated or whether she would accept legally binding assurances”.

“If the backstop is dealt with in the withdrawal agreement then, despite the fact we may have misgivings around other parts of the withdrawal agreement, we will support the prime minister because we do want Brexit to happen in an orderly and sustained fashion,” she said.

Following her trip to Northern Ireland yesterday aimed at trying to reassure people and business that she can secure a Brexit deal that avoids a hard border, Downing Street has confirmed that Theresa May will travel to Brussels tomorrow to try to hammer out “legally binding changes” that they hope will win over sceptical MPs.

The EU has repeatedly said it will not reopen the legally binding withdrawal agreement, and in the latest blow to May’s renegotiation strategy, DUP Brexit spokesperson Sammy Wilson said his party would not support any legal “codicil” to the withdrawal deal and the prime minister would be “very foolish to go down that road”.

Ironically it is the opposition of Northern Irish unionists to the backstop that has become the biggest obstacle to the prime minister getting her deal through parliament.

That in turn has dramatically increased the likelihood of the UK crashing out the EU without a deal – a scenario that “would make a hard border on the island or Ireland a certainty, destroying three decades of peace and creating the perfect conditions for the men of violence to return” says the Daily Record.

“Trimble was one of those figures who compromised to win peace in Ireland” adds the paper, “it is a tragic consequence of Brexit that he is now one of those who could plunge Ireland back into terror.”

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